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Secretary of state continues to press for early voting

June 25, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s secretary of state said Tuesday she can’t understand why the legislature hasn’t passed her proposal to allow for early voting.

Voters want early in-person voting and the state needs it for the better administration of elections, particularly in 2020, Democrat Nellie Gorbea said.

“This is really too important,” she said. “I’ll be advocating for it until the very last minute.”

This week is expected to be the final week of the legislative session. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello says early voting is still under consideration and he continues to talk with those involved.

Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, however, believes Rhode Island already has early voting, practically speaking, through the emergency ballot process, according to his spokesman. Emergency mail ballots can be used within 20 days of an election, but Gorbea says they are cumbersome and labor intensive.

A bill to allow early voting has stalled for five consecutive years. Some municipalities were concerned about costs and some lawmakers worried about changing the traditional methods.

Gorbea’s proposal to allow early voting at city and town halls within 20 days of an election was introduced in the House in February and in the Senate in March. It hasn’t advanced out of committee, but bills can be resurrected and move quickly to a floor vote during the final week.

Gorbea wrote to legislative leaders last week, offering a compromise where early in-person voting would only be an option during the general election, not the primary.

With the large turnout predicted for the 2020 presidential election, Gorbea said she worries elections officials won’t be able to handle the influx of mail ballots if early voting isn’t approved.

“I’m really concerned about there being a crisis in 2020 that results in mistakes in election results, major delays in election results and undermines the credibility of our elections process,” she said.

About 17,000 traditional mail ballots were returned for the Nov. 6 general election, up from about 11,500 in 2014, and nearly 11,000 emergency mail ballots were returned within 20 days of the election, up from nearly 5,000 in 2014.

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